Founder of the Week: Shokoofeh Ketabchi and Tanfit

Every week, we highlight one women founder. This week, Shokoofeh Ketabchi, founder of Tanfit, is put in the spotlight.

Nowadays, it is known to many that The Netherlands is the mecca for business starters, start-ups, and tech companies. According to data from 2020, this country is home to more than two million businesses. Facilitated bureaucracy, access to support, and programs such as Start-up Visa, attract many business initiators to move to its capital Amsterdam. The same happened to Shokoofeh Ketabchi. She is originally from Iran, but has been trotting around the globe for the last decade before settling in the Netherlands.   

Today, Shokoofeh put aside her initial freelance consultancy business to dedicate herself to Tanfit. This is a project about well-being and a healthy lifestyle. A project that hasn’t been easy to continue throughout a pandemic that resulted to the closure of gyms.

Shokoofeh is not only an amazingly resilient entrepreneur, but she also contributed to the writing and publication of the book “Ready For Female Leadership”. This was done together with 28 other contributors from the Women Business Network (PWN). The book is about appreciating woman qualities and leadership, not being afraid, and not letting insecurities get in the way. In particular, Shokoofeh’s chapter focuses on the relationship of women with power and why we need to speak up. For more info, click here.

At Equals we talked with Shokoofeh. She explained to us how Tanfit was born, how it survived, and what the future will look like.   

Hi Shokoofeh, thanks for your time. Could you introduce yourself?

Of course, my name is Shokoofeh. My name is Shokoofeh, I am from Iran, but I moved to the UK more than 15 years ago, for my studies. I did my master’s and my PhD. At the time of my PhD, I had the chance to work with big companies and a team of freelancers, with whom we were doing projects collaborating with companies, like BP, British gas. It was a very practical PhD, a good learning process. Once accomplished the PhD, I started my freelance business consultancy, I was mostly taking on projects in the oil and gas industry. Until 2014, when there was a crash in my industry which led me to reconsider the sector I was specialized in and eventually brought me to expand my specializations to other industries such as agriculture, pharmaceuticals, construction, and even beauty and medicine.   

So, what brought you to the launch of Tanfit?  

As a result of my freelance business, I was traveling all the time. I lived in the United Arab Emirates, in Russia, and I had projects in Turkey, Croatia, and other countries. During this time, I was meeting different clients in different countries, and it became really difficult to maintain my health. Thus, I was often completely sick after a flight. So, I started thinking about focusing on my own business, doing something in a smaller circle instead of going around, and that’s how the Tanfit idea came out.

Tanfit allows you to exercise in any country you are in. An idea coming from my personal experience, as there were times when I wanted to work out, but either the one-time sessions were really expensive or you could access the gym only with a monthly subscription. That’s why I thought: wouldn’t it be nice to have an app that allows you to exercise and make use of gyms around the world? Still being affordable and user-friendly, which didn’t exist at that time (back in 2017 NDR). 

Your origins are in Iran, but you lived quite some time in the UK while traveling the world the rest of the time. How did you end up in the Netherlands?  

When I started doing research for the app, I was also looking into which country would be the best to start with. I traveled a lot, so I knew a lot about doing business in different countries and their relative cultures. So, while doing my research, I realized only a few countries were appearing to be supporting entrepreneurs. The best one was the Netherlands, especially given the fact that it is small and accessible. The support is high, both from the government and existing facilitators.   

I already had a meeting with my facilitator, Yeni Joseph (also Equals’s advisor) even before moving here. While talking to her, I saw how helpful and enthusiastic she is. Officially, my startup visa was granted in February 2019. That’s how I ended up in Amsterdam.  

Coming back to Tanfit, could you explain how the app works? 

The app has a network of gyms in different countries, to which you get access by subscribing to the app and looking for gyms nearby you. We have a partnership with the gym, and we sort out the payments with them. Like this, you don’t have to worry about the payment all the time.   

What are the costs of Tanfit for users? 

The app has different options: you can pay a monthly subscription, and sometimes pay as you go. Based on the need of the market, we have to adjust the type of subscription we work with. There are now similar apps on the market. They are sometimes changing the type of subscriptions: it can be credit-based, pay-as-you-go, or unlimited monthly, so you have to check what kind of demand there is in the respective market.   

So, you arrived in the Netherlands in 2019, less than a year after The Netherlands had had its first lockdown: gyms, among other things, were closed. To what extent did that impact the future of Tanfit?  

A lot, actually. After my visa was issued, I got settled in the Netherlands around May. Studying the market and registering the company took me perhaps 6 months. By the time I started negotiating with the gyms and making contracts, Covid was already in the air. Then, gyms were closed and that was quite a backlash. There was no point in investing further in the company.   

Most of 2020 was like this: the gyms were opening and closing. That’s why I realized it couldn’t stay like this. That was something I already was used to doing previously in my career: I had to reinvent myself. Similar to the time I was working for the oil and gas industry and there was the crash. It was the same: I had to reinvent myself and cope with the idea of putting the app on hold, and launching it at the right time.  

So you put Tanfit on hold, and what did you do then?  

I started thinking about what could be a good idea, still in line with the main app, but that would allow me to make some money to be able to invest further in the app. That’s why I came up with the women’s sportswear idea. I started with a few items, and now I have more than 300 items in different colors and shapes, from sports bras to leggings. E-commerce is currently my main business. Meanwhile, I am working on the app, as I had also the app will be reinvented and coming to the market with a new face and a new business plan soon.  

Will e-commerce also be integrated into the new face of the app? 

I will keep the e-commerce and they will go hand in hand. The sportswear line in my initial plan was meant to be launched as promotional material for those who were using the app, as I wanted to have some merchandise. But when Covid happened, I thought I could twist it: first the product, then the app.   

How do you think your entrepreneurial spirit changed? 

As I moved forward I became more focused on what I was doing and how to grow the app instead of having a thousand ideas. Those that can come to life are what matters, you know. Moreover, I found my purpose as to why I am bringing this to the market. My products are colorful, they are there to add to body positivity, making people fall in love with their bodies, whatever shape, size, or age. So, I realized my purpose is for everyone to be seen and to love and be confident in themselves. Instead of always wearing black sportswear, let’s make it more colorful, why should you hide your body? Yeah, I think I found my purpose in my entrepreneurial spirit.   

Future projects? 

I will scale up the e-commerce, which is taking quite some of my time. I would like to enlarge the team to take off some of my responsibilities and be able to focus on other, currently outsourced, aspects. The app is also in process and will be launched soon.   

Want to read more about amazing woman founders? Click here to read our other Founder of the Week blogs.